Open Zion

01.11.13

Elliott Abrams Owes Hagel An Apology

In Danielle Pletka's blogpost all but calling Chuck Hagel an anti-Semite—which I just wrote about—she noted that, on this score, "accusations and defenses have come from serious people." Who? Hagel's been defended and endorsed by scores of former top U.S. officials from the worlds of politics, diplomacy and defense; one presumes none believe he's an anti-Semite. As for the accusers: by my count, among those of any note, there's an unnamed "top Republican Senate aide," Bret Stephens, Jennifer Rubin and Elliott Abrams. Of that group, the Council on Foreign Relations' Abrams is the only one to have held any government posting or position of power beyond punditry (save that courageous Senate aide who wouldn't use their name). 

In both in his National Public Radio interview and in his Weekly Standard piece, Abrams cited as his exhibit A in the case against Hagel remarks made by Nebraska Jewish community leaders to a right-wing Jewish newspaper. I've already noted that the unanimity that Abrams held up among Nebraska Jews was either a figment of his imagination or a reflection of his utter unwillingness to look into the subject before making damaging claims that Hagel's anti-Semitic. Now there's evidence that those Jewish Nebraskan activists cited by the right-wing paper don't even agree with Abrams. Recently asked by the Forward's Nathan Guttman if he considered Hagel anti-Semitic, Gary Javitch said, "No." Here's the relevant bit from Guttman:

Trouble is, Jews in Nebraska on both sides of Hagel’s confirmation fight emphatically refute the charge. “To make such an accusation you need to be very careful,” said Gary Javitch, an activist in Omaha, Nebraska’s biggest city, which has a community of about 6,500 Jews. “He never demonstrated anything like that in all the meetings I had with him.”

Javitch’s views may hold particular weight because he is no fan of Hagel. A lay leader in several Jewish organizations, he is considered by locals to an expert on the local Jewish political scene... Still, when asked if he thought the claims of Hagel’s bias against Jews had any merit, he responded flatly “No.”

In his Standard piece, Abrams pointed to the views of these Nebraska Jews: "Why would anyone think he was an anti-Semite?" Abrams wrote. "Here the testimony of the Jewish community that knew him best is most useful: Nebraskans. And the record seems unchallenged." In his interview with NPR, Abrams again raised the attitudes of the Nebraska Jewish community as evidence of so-called anti-Semitism:

I think if you look at statements by Hagel, and then you look at the statements by the Nebraska Jewish community—about his unresponsiveness to them, his dismissal of them, his hostility to them—I don't understand really how you can reach any other conclusion that he seems to have some kind of problem with Jews. ...There's an animus here, an animus that was visible to the Jews of the Nebraska. And that's what the committee needs to look into.

Notably, in both the Standard article and his NPR interview, Abrams cited as his second piece of evidence a purported 1989 incident where Hagel, then head of the the USO, sought to close a USO base in Haifa, Israel. In the right-wing blog that initially reported the events, a single source claimed Hagel said, "Let the Jews pay for it." The quote was not corroborated by any other sources. Moreover, the Atlantic's Steve Clemons made hash of the post's overall thrust by speaking to an array of American and Israeli USO officials, one of whom—the longtime head of the Haifa USO who Abrams ironically cited for having been "given a prize by the U.S. Navy for her work"—said, "For me, it was an absolute gift of God and for our volunteers when Chuck Hagel came to Israel." Indeed, under Hagel's leadership, the Haifo USO was kept open even as 10 other stations in the region closed. 

With Guttman's reporting, it's clear that Abrams is holier than the Pope: he's suggesting Hagel's anti-Semitic because of the way he treated Nebraska Jews, but none of them have said they think Hagel's anti-Semitic. NPR should make mention of just how dubious Abrams's accusation actually is and Abrams should be challenged by media and by his fellow scholars in the think tank world to find any member in good standing of the Nebraska Jewish community who will say on the record that they consider their former Senator an anti-Semite. Failing that, Abrams should issue a public apology to Hagel for making this scurrilous charge.